Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Night of Nerdery

Cambridge got a little nerdier on Friday night. 

At “Nerdnite Presents Nerdtacular!” a group of self-identified geeks gathered at the MIT Museum for some socializing and a trio of interesting lectures. Over cheap beer and cheese puffs, we alternately chatted and paid attention to the three guest speakers whose topics were perfectly suited to their largely awkward-intellectual grad student audience.

“It’s not true that all nerds like origami, but if you like origami, you’re a nerd. There’s just no way of getting around it.” This is how architecture enthusiast Joel Lamere, who teaches architectural geometry and design courses at MIT, began the first talk of the evening. He admitted a “fetish for folding” and gave a lively presentation about folding paper in curves, like origami with a twist.

Author Louis Hyman took the floor next. He recently wrote a book called "Debtor Nation” and gave his talk on economic history and debt in the United States. “We’re degenerates, sure. But it has nothing to do with our debts,” he said, and went on to explain how government policies are more to blame than individuals for the current state of America’s economy.

The final talk was given by Harvard organic geochemist Hilary Close, who spoke about picoplankton: organic matter that’s a million times smaller than a human, or about how much smaller you are than the earth. In an upbeat presentation, Close discussed how tiny organic players like picoplankton escape from the cellular respiration cycle. This movement of plankton is more important than we might think because it, in turn, “allows oxygen to move freely in the atmosphere so we can breathe.”

What might otherwise have been dry topics were enlivened by each speaker’s great sense of humor and their unexpectedly entertaining PowerPoint visuals. The crowd got livelier as the evening progressed, and laughter peaked and voices rose as the kegs of beer were slowly depleted. A question for nerds to ponder: correlation or causation?

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