Every Thursday, the California Academy of Sciences is transformed into a lively venue filled with music, provocative science, mingling, and cocktails for visitors 21 and older. Activities and performers change week to week. Image courtesy Jenny Oh.

Over lunch today, I got into a debate with my friend over which camp I fell into – nerd or geek. His understanding is I lacked the technical aptitude to fall into either category. Of course, I disagreed. I am quite confident that I am situated comfortably in the nerd camp. His rebuttal was that I throw parties for a living of which I countered that I throw “science” parties.

So at an impasse, definitions were in order – both are quoted form the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps from nerd, a creature in the children’s book If I Ran the Zoo (1950) by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)
An unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits

Function: noun
Etymology: probably from English dial. geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German
1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity

“Slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits” definitely rings a bell. I love researching and I always have. In high school, the librarians knew me by name because I spent more time with books than peers. In college, I would pick paper topics specifically to gain access to the Bancroft rare books library at Cal. In school, it was easy to fuel my nerdy interests and get lost into a battle of wits amongst friends but in adulthood, I have had to search for like-minded people and events. Below is my list of favorites intellectual haunts in the city.

NightLife at California Academy of Sciences

Okay, I am totally biased as I manage the music and programming for the series. But I don’t think I would have explored so many other events if I wasn’t working on creating a “science” party of my own.

Down to a Science Informal Lectures at Atlas Café

This past Monday, I heard Brian Fisher talk about ants at this series. His stories, passion, and enthusiasm filled the room and the audience was captivated. Not only did we see into the fascinating world of ants but we found out why Dr. Fisher screens his calls. His number one question from the public is ‘How do I get rid of the ants in my kitchen?’

Down to a Science Book Club at Book Inc.

In January, we are reading Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice for all Creation which is one of my all-time favorite science books. In the past month, I was introduced to the amazing medical mystery of Prions. The discussion has been small and incredibly lively each time I’ve attended.

Exploratorium after Dark

Okay, I have to admit that I haven’t been to this particular event yet because I work on NightLife on Thursday nights. But I have a group assembled to go check it out during our hiatus in December. I love that they are doing a night like this as I HEART the Exploratorium. I have ever since I visited during bubble day and was able to step into a giant bubble thanks to a lot of bubble solution and a simple pulley system.

LoveTech usually held at Il Pirata

I attended LearnTech which is a part of this series to support my friend who built a navigation portal into fractals. This is a great event that plays with the intersection between art, electronics and music. LearnTech was set up as mini talks and tabling. The talks, interaction, and boundless creativity had me captivated.

Ask a Scientist Informal Lectures held at Axis Café

This is another informal Science Café that has great content. The last one I was able to attend delved into the science behind magic. Even thought the place was packed, the lecture and discussion were lively and funny to boot.

Bookswap held at Booksmith

Reading, being my portal into nerdiness, is a constant pastime. But there are very few times that I get to truly discuss a book let alone several. I brought Mary Roach’s Bonk and swapped it for a Ninja novel. I was also given the recommendation of World War Z. I read it in two days; itt was so well written and absolutely engrossing.

What’s wonderful about San Francisco is this is only a slice of science events in the city. Have you found a haunt in the San Francisco Science Scene? Feel free to share you’re favorites in the comment section below.

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San Francisco Science Scene 10 December,2009Cat



Cathleen (Cat) is the former Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and worked in the public programs division.
Before working at the Academy, Cat got her start as an intern at Lindsay Wildlife Museum for four years and worked with animals ranging from snakes and hawks to foxes and bobcats. She has a deep curiosity about the natural world and native California wildlife.

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