Monday, January 23, 2012

CultureLab - A meeting of minds at the Secret Science Club

Becky Ferreira, contributor
(Image: David Gould/Photographer’s Choice/Getty)
"Holy [expletive]! I didn't know science was this cool!"
Well, that’s one way to open a lecture.
Astrophysicist David Hogg was referring to the hundreds of science enthusiasts gathered at the first Secret Science Club meeting of 2012.
In their introductory remarks, Margaret Mittelbach and Dorian Devins, the founders of the five-year-old monthly science lecture series, acknowledged that the "secret" appears to have been compromised. Even those relegated to standing room struggled for space in the cavernous Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. Hogg himself had been turned away from a past overcrowded show about Einstein's theory of relativity. He remembers thinking, "Hey, I'm a freaking physicist. Let me in!"
Of course, this time around, he not only made it in - he was the centre of the universe. Actually, we all are, he explained, referring to the expansion of our cosmos. While his talk was ostensibly about what happened before the big bang, it was filled with delightful and highly quotable comments on the multiverse ("If we lived in a universe with two space dimensions and two time dimensions, then the universe would be f*cked up"), the speed of light ("Forget about those neutrinos!"), and his geek cred ("You want to nerd out? I know people that will pwn you!").
We were given fair warning about the content. Hogg admitted early on he'd focus on the philosophical side of astrophysics because his actual day job is, according to him, "unacceptably boring". His life's work is measuring the position and velocity of every star in our galaxy, with the hope of getting perhaps a thirtieth of them pinned down before he dies.
Nobody in the audience accepted this as dull. On one of the many occasions when the audience burst into laughter, Hogg commented, "I love that everything is funny. Can you guys just hang out outside my apartment?" Someone in the audience cheerfully yelled back, "Where do you live?" When it came time for the Q & A, Hogg was overwhelmed with questions, all of them on point.
The audience provides half the fun of the series. The Secret Science Club has tapped into an information-hungry crowd of proud nerds who listen attentively even as they down the themed cocktails of the night - in this case "the Red Shift". When Hogg mentioned that Lord Kelvin believed the sun to be 3 million years old, there was a roar of laughter at the tiny figure, though it wasn't intended as a joke. Mittelbach and Devins's attempts to diversify the evening with musical acts were deserted when they realised the crowd was more interested in the scientists' lectures themselves, and they've since decided to focus only on booking incredible speakers. In the past, they’ve hosted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, neuroscientist Paul Glimcher and dinosaur hunter Stephen Brusatte, among many other distinguished researchers. Last month saw the return of the pair’s annual taxidermy contest Carnivorous Nights, which drew 30 entries.
The best part of all? The series is completely free. Nerds of NYC: these are your people.

No comments:

Post a Comment