Event review: Nerd Nite Sydney

Thanks to Nolanne Chang for this event review.

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!”

“Maths, Maths, Maths!”

That’s the sound of Simon Pampena revving up the crowd at this month’s Sydney Nerd Nite. Simon was the first of three guest speakers on the night, with subjects ranging from comedic science to a treatise against traditional lecture methods, to a review of the current thoughts by leading scientists on PTSD. Last month at Nerd Nite Sydney, topics included why we root for Michael Corleone in the Godfather, an obscure treatise on French philosopher-driven films, and a discussion of what makes a good film review, by local critics. Over time, the topics have ranged from the prosaic to the downright crazy, and from the humanities to the sciences.

Nerd Nite Sydney was co-founded by Justine Rodgers and Jessica Grisham, both academics at UNSW. Justine had just come back from studying at the University of Oxford in England and missed the intellectual atmosphere. She wanted an environment where discussions that would normally only be had between academics could be conducted with a broader audience. Stumbling upon the US organisation of Nerd Nite, she wondered if a similar event could be hosted in Sydney – they put her in touch with Jess, who had also expressed interest. Thus, Nerd Nite Sydney was born.

The event is held at Café Lounge in Surry Hills on the first Wednesday of every month. For the first few months around 40 to 50 people turned up; and now, one and a half years later, there are online ticket sales and the venue often reaches maximum capacity (120). This is something to be justifiably proud of, as it goes against the anti-intellectual stereotype often portrayed of Australians. Curiously, the audience seems to have a large age range, and, glancing around the room it’s noticeable that not everyone attending is an academic or the type of person that would normally attend a lecture. This is partially why Café Lounge was chosen – it’s a relaxed, “non-threatening” atmosphere where the audience members can buy bar food and drinks (I can personally vouch for the excellent chips). There’s a small stage and a screen – though not all presenters even use slide decks, preferring to interact more directly with their audience.

On the other hand, the atmosphere presented by the current location, would be harder to accomplish in a larger venue, which would be desired to accommodate their expanding crowd. Occasionally, the group behind Nerd Nite spins off special events, such as organizing a Stand-Up Comedy night at the Ultimo Science Festival (two years in a row now) or Nerd Gala, a night when they brought back several of the most popular Nerd Nite speakers. In addition to their monthly speakers’ night, they are also now trying to expand the role of their Facebook page, to reach their audience much more frequently. Posts on this page include interesting science tidbits, updates on what past speakers are up to, and teasers about the next month’s program.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nerd Nite Sydney – check out their page on Facebook. The event is held the first Wednesday of every month at Café Lounge in Surry Hills – the next event is October 2nd.