Nerd Nite SF #29: Explosives, Coral Reproduction, and Sideshow “Freaks”

Where else but NNSF do you get the sexiest, freakiest, most explosively drunken lectures around? We’ll have a chemist talking about blowing things up, a biologist who lives to help sea creatures get it on, and a physician/scientist taking us beyond the sideshow and deep into the science of the mutants of old-timey circuses. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 10/17
Doors at 7pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St @Van Ness
$8 (advance tix available here)
All ages

FB event


“Explosives: Why Things Go Boom!” by Zach Demko

Explosives are the most powerful chemical reactions possible. They are used for destruction and creation, propulsion, intimidation, and art. But what makes a good explosive? In this talk you will learn how terrorists blow up hummers, NASA gets astronauts into space, and the Nazis tried to make invincible flamethrowers–and what happens when the boom goes bust. Wear your nattiest Kevlar suits, everyone!

Zach managed to escape his childhood with all fingers intact and without burning down anything major, at least unintentionally. He got his Ph.D. in chemistry with a Nobel laureate. Over time, his focus has shifted to making drugs–but that’s another talk altogether. Now he works at a start-up that helps people make designer babies. Well, not quite. At least, not yet.


“Coral Sex Therapy: Helping Coral Make Sweet, Sweet Love” by Richard Ross

Don’t get out much? Feeling like you may never meet that special someone to make babies with? Oh, and are you a tad endangered, too? Welcome to the sex life of a sessile animal. In August, biologists met in the Florida Keys to better understand how spawning is triggered, collect and fertilize gametes in the lab, and then use those juvenile corals to colonize public aquariums, as well as repopulate the area around the Keys with healthy, genetically diverse coral. In this talk we’ll discuss why the corals are endangered, advances in the practicality of their sexual reproduction, and how people are helping protect and repopulate the corals that have been disappearing.

Rich is a biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, where he cares for a variety of animals, including corals, octopuses, cuttles, vine snakes, archer fish, and even an albino alligator. At home he does the same thing, but for his fantastic wife, 9-year-old daughter, naked cats, and chickens.


“Peerless Prodigies of Physical Phenomena: Circus Sideshow Acts and the Science Behind Them” by Anne Deucher

Come one, come all! Step right up and take a journey back in time to the circus sideshow of 1910! REVEL in the incredible, persevering, resourceful, and marvelous human beings behind this curtain! The Elephant Man! Lion-Faced Boy! Lobster Boy! The Human Unicorn! The Bearded Lady! Cyclops! General Tom Thumb! All the “freaks” are here! SEE their inspirational stories of triumph over nature, fate, and the judgment of man! LEARN how modern science explains their unique existences! NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!

Anne is a physician/scientist at UCSF with specialty training in hematopathology and molecular genetic pathology. After countless years of failed explanations of her career to her mother, she has learned that the best way to describe what she does is to say, “like on CSI.”


DJ Alpha Bravo mans the decks, spinning vinyl and tweeting along to the presentations’ themes. Find out what you’re listening to by following @djalphabravo.

11/1 – Nerd Nite at Sea!

Nerd Nite SF and the Aquarium of the Bay have teamed up to bring you an evening of science, drinks, and music on the Bay! It’s all part of the Bay Area Science Festival. Begin with a private event at the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 where you can learn about the Bay ecology and see sharks, jellies, and all the other animals in their 700,000+ gallon aquarium. Then climb aboard the Hornblower hybrid-powered ferry at Pier 33 and cruise the Bay while having drinks, grooving to DJ Alpha Bravo, meeting scientists, and exploring hands-on activities. Be there and be square!

11/1: Aquarium of the Bay 6-7:30pm, Bay Cruise 7:45-10pm. $20. Ages 21+.

300 person capacity, so hurry and get your tickets at




Are there ID requirements or an age limit to enter the event?

Attendees must be 21+ and have ID.


What are my transport/parking options getting to the event?

MUNI: The ‘F’ line stops directly in front of Pier 39. The 47 and 8X lines stop very nearby as well.

Parking: Public parking facilities are available at Pier 35 or across from the main entrance at the PIER 39 garage. The garage is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please note that neither Aquarium of the Bay nor Hornblower Yachts validate parking, but many PIER 39 restaurants do.


Is food & drink included?

Drinks will be on sale at cash bars. Small bites of sustainable seafood from local restaurants will be featured at the Aquarium of the Bay. Other food options are readily available nearby.


Where can I contact the organizer with any questions?

Questions may be directed to

Nerd Nite SF #28: Mites Mystery, Weird WWII SF, and Pierrot Lunaire

Itching to get out of the house? Feeling a little moonstruck? Ever wished our lecture-in-a-bar catchphrase were “the History Channel with beer” instead? Well, you’re in luck, ’cause we have a NNSF grab-bag to fit almost any predilection, with a biologist’s personal account of ectoparasite hell, a history buff’s tales of SF’s WWII weirdness, and an ensemble performance-presentation on Schoenberg’s moon-crazed mime. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 9/19
Doors at 7 pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St @Van Ness
$8, advance tix here
All ages

FB event


“The Year of the Mite: A Scientific Detective Story” by Jane Ishka

Jane Ishka’s family decided to keep a couple of cute, fuzzy baby chicks in the family room for a few weeks, until they were big enough to live in the backyard coop with the laying hens. Baby chicks are so adorable when they scratch their ectoparasites! But it turns out a chicken can host up to 10,000 D. gallinae, translucent mites, each the size of the point of a pin. They bite people, crawl in and out of human pores, carry some really nasty diseases, and reproduce so quickly they have out-evolved most pesticides. Jane the biologist was their favorite host. They were not so popular with her. How did she get rid of them…or did she? Join us for a talk that will make your skin crawl.

Jane Ishka has been a technical writer for various Bay Area biotech companies for the past 20 years (except for a couple years in the early aughts when she taught middle school science, worked twice as hard, and made half the money). She holds an MBA from a somewhat prominent Eastern school, and an MS in molecular biology from a nondescript Western school. She no longer has any pets.


“Prowling Subs and Panic Attacks: Ten Bizarre Stories From World War II San Francisco” by Carl Nicolari

Ever wonder if your granddad’s zany war stories might actually be true? One thing is for sure: World War II-era San Francisco was ground zero for many a bizarre episode that you were never taught in history class. Tonight, we declassify the files of wartime weirdness and reveal ten true stories of riots and racism, POWs and panic attacks, and the real reason the United Nations was founded here. You don’t have to be a military history geek to enjoy this presentation!

Carl Nicolari is a San Francisco native who began exploring and mapping old military fortifications in the Presidio and Marin while still in elementary school. This led to an equally nerdy career in IT project management and a couple of related teaching and book projects.


“Pierrot Lunaire, Cabaret for a Crazed Clown: A Performance-Presentation on Arnold Schoenberg’s Expressionist Chamber Music Masterpiece” by Nonsemble 6

Nonsemble 6 gives a performance-presentation of Arnold Schoenberg’s epic masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire. Scored for voice, piano, violin, cello, flute, and clarinet, this melodrama is about Pierrot, the original melancholy, moon-drunk clown and mime from Italy’s commedia dell’arte. The music ranges in fits of hyperactive expressionism–Schoenberg’s “atonal” music was and still is reviled by many. But in the hands of the competent, this music sings with delicious romanticism, dances the waltzes of Vienna, and claws at the psyche with frightful hallucinations. This presentation will outline the history of the commedia dell’arte, the wildness of Pierrot Lunaire’s poetry, Schoenberg’s use of instruments and voice in his musical storytelling, and the cabaret style of pantomime and costume–and is a special preview for an October 4th performance at the SF Conservatory of Music. (For more information and for tickets, click here.)

Nonsemble 6 is a San Francisco-based sextet committed to pushing the boundaries of the traditional concert experience and engaging audiences with multi-genre collaborations. Their current season focuses on Pierrot Lunaire and on expanding monodrama repertoire, with upcoming commissions by composers including Luciano Chessa, Danny Clay, and Adrian Knight. Nonsemble 6 is a fiscally sponsored affiliate of the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, a nonprofit dedicated to the service of chamber music in California.


DJ Alpha Bravo mans the decks, spinning vinyl and tweeting along to the presentations’ themes. Find out what you’re listening to by following @djalphabravo.

Nerd Nite SF #27: Fish Speciation, Molyjam, and Stellar Evolution

This month we traverse the depths of the ocean; journey to supernovae far, far away; and land back down in the gadgets and games that fascinate us in the here and now–all in a nite’s work at NNSF headquarters! So grab a friend and a drink and settle in for talks on diversity under the sea, the wild success of a global video game jam, and how heavy metals from long-dead stars help power the computers in your pockets. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 8/15
Doors at 7pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St @Van Ness
All ages
NEW-ish! Buy your tickets in advance here!


“Smells Like Fish Species: Evolution in the Marine Realm” by Moises Bernal

Sure, there’s plenty of fish in the sea–but did you ever wonder how they got there? Join us for some coral reef-er madness as we examine how these cute, cuddly, coldblooded vertebrates–from the slippery dick to the not-so-hilarious clownfish–diversify. What processes make for such a staggeringly sundry array of fishies (with an emphasis on reef-dwellers) and how do scientists tackle these piscine questions? Dive in with us!

Moises Bernal is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and conducting research at the California Academy of Sciences. He is a great cook, decent salsa dancer, mediocre bass player–and hates long walks on the beach.


“Molyjam: How a Twitter Joke Can Save Video Games” by Anna Kipnis

Famed game designer Peter Molyneux is as well known for his games as for his fantastically ambitious ideas that rarely see the light of code. A fake Twitter account, @PeterMolydeux, has been lovingly parodying him by tweeting ludicrous game ideas. But some Bay Area fans decided these ridiculous concepts were too excellent NOT to turn into actual games, and planned a fun get-together for local game developers to do just that. This local game jam quickly exploded into an international event, with at least 1,000 people participating in over 30 cities worldwide. We’ll see how Molyjam came to be–and go viral–and how the bizarre new games it birthed may help reinvigorate an industry.

Anna Kipnis is a senior gameplay programmer at Double Fine Productions; has been lucky enough to have worked on Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, Costume Quest, Once Upon a Monster, and The Cave; and is currently working on the successful Kickstarter project, Double Fine Adventure. It is her ardent belief that video games have a lot more potential than what we’ve seen up until now, if only more people would get involved in game development.


“Stellar Evolution and Your iPhone” by Daniel Kocevski

Dude, did you know that without heavy metal, we wouldn’t have, like, iPhones and stuff? Dude!! Rock on!! Wait, ohhhh, not THAT heavy metal? Bummer. [Ahem.] Ever wonder how what we now use to build hardware–like silicon, gold, and lead–were created and deposited here on Earth? In this head-banging talk, we’ll explore the physics of stellar nucleosynthesis, and how stellar evolution creates heavier elements through the fusion of lighter elements in the fiery cores of stars. We’ll also look at how the death of these stars, in the form of supernovae explosions, create the heavy metals that we have become increasingly dependent on in our tech-driven world.

Daniel Kocevski is an astrophysicist at Stanford studying supernovae and other cosmic explosions with NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Like most nerds at Nerd Nite, he has become utterly dependent on the tech gadgetry that relies on the elements created in the cosmic explosions he studies.


Alpha Bravo will be on hand, as per usual, spinning real-live records and live-tweeting his trademark sets of musique chosen to complement the themes of this evening’s particular nerdery.

Nerd Nite SF #26: SF Inventions, Nitrogen, and Backyard Science

Photo of Dumetella carolinensis courtesy Justin Benttinen

We live in a fascinating world, and sometimes you just need to sit back for a second and admire it. Even better, do it with a beer in hand at the monthly lecture-in-a-bar series, Nerd Nite SF! This month, bask in the inventions, the nitrogen, and the opportunities for DIY science that surround us every day.

Wednesday, 7/18
Doors at 7pm, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St @ Van Ness
All ages

NEW! Buy your ticket in advance!
Purchase Tickets


“The pleasure pit, ancient iPods, and other San Francisco inventions” by Robin Marks

San Francisco was a hotbed of innovation way before Sili Valley put us on the patent map. What else would you expect from a city built on impossible hills and dreams of gold dust? Some SF tinkerers put their can-do spirit into practical inventions, but thankfully plenty of other idea-generators sought to improve life’s more entertaining pursuits. Enjoy an Invented-in-SF cocktail and let these surprising stories of innovation inspire your own DIY greatness!

Robin Marks is a recovering-biochemist-turned-science-writer and owner of Discovery Street Tours, a walking tour company offering science-themed strolls of San Francisco.


“Et tu, N2?” by Nick Bouskill

Our lives are completely at the mercy of an unseen, silent majority of microorganisms that wield the Mighty Power of Nitrogen! In this talk we’ll explore how they capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and use it up or share it with other living organisms before returning it to the atmosphere in the same form, ready to be used again. We’ll also look at how mankind’s use of nitrogen has saved billions of lives, contributed to chemical warfare, fueled the Nazis, poisoned rivers and coastlines and may even be destroying the planet.

Nick Bouskill is a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Typical for a scientist, he only has two topics of dinner table conversation: nitrogen and rugby. He doesn’t get invited to dinner parties very often.


“Birds, Wasps, and How to Get Published in a Peer Reviewed Journal Without Really Trying” by Justin Benttinen

Sometimes a lazy summer day by the pool can turn into a…peer reviewed journal article? This talk tells the story of how a hookah and a couple of casual observations of the birds and the bees went from summer idyll to “Avian kleptoparasitism of the digger wasp Sphex pensylvanicus”. It turns out that there really are things left in this world to discover as long as you take the time to look.

Justin Benttinen is a photographer, dreamer, nerd, and badass dancer now located in Oakland, CA. This paper helped inspire him to pursue photography, and his portfolio can be seen at (Ed: The catbird photo on this month’s poster is courtesy Justin. Thank you!)


Nerd Nite SF #25: Death-Proof Cities, Video Games’ Urban Design, and the Science of Futurama!

Cap off the longest day of the year with a night’s worth of bacchic nerdery! Our speakers will set their laser pointers on “stun” as they teach us about disaster-proof megalopolises, the urban planning of video games, and the real science of Futurama. Be there and be square!

Wednesday, 6/20
Doors at 7:30, show at 8
Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St @ Van Ness
All ages
Facebook Event Page


“How to Build a Death-Proof City” by Annalee Newitz
More than half of humanity lives in cities, and that number is only going to grow over the next century. In a sense, the future of our species is tied to the future of urban life. But historically, cities have been deadly hives of disease and famine — not to mention death-traps in natural disasters. How can we change our cities to protect them from destruction? Using science, of course! In this talk, learn how surveillance, simulated earthquakes, and synthetic biology will keep the Grim Reaper at bay in tomorrow’s megalopolis!

Annalee Newitz is a journalist, author, and editor-in-chief of She has a book coming out from Doubleday next year, tentatively titled “Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive the Next Mass Extinction”.


“An Open World: Playing in the Intersection of Video Games and Urban Design” by Lou Huang

Grand Theft Auto: Car chases, prostitution, shootings… and urban design? Yes! Artists have always been fascinated with recreating the city, but the advent of video games has allowed people to create virtual environments experienced in much the same way as real life: through your own eyes, as you walk through a space. Some game designers strive to model real-world spaces in excruciating detail (L.A. Noire), others pay homage to them in facsimile (GTA), while still others invent entirely new cities. Yet they all share a goal with modern urban designers: improving the pedestrian experience. After everything video games have done to mimic the real world, what can the real world learn from video games?

Lou Huang is a 21st-century digital boy and urban designer. He knows way too much about video games. You can follow his work at and other shenanigans with the art collective Human Fiction at


“Science in Futurama” by Kishore Hari
Good news, everyone! We’re going to explore some of the real science in Futurama, including splanchnic ganglion, bonitis, alcohol-fueled robots, and my personal favorite: hardcore MATH. Come enjoy 6 great seasons, 2 cancellations, and a forgettable 7th season’s worth of legitimate science–and with none of that razzle-dazzle hippie Globetrotter science. Your primitive 21st-century brains will be overflowing with grey goo in the first 5 minutes. Oh my, yes.

Kishore Hari is the Director of the Bay Area Science Festival, led by UCSF. In a former life, he was an environmental chemist, but currently spends a majority of his time researching the combined impact of late-night cartoons and beer on the human brain and his marriage.


Music by the esteemed DJ Alpha Bravo, curated especially for our speakers’ topics!