It may sound like something dweeby from high school that would you get you face-deep in toilet water, but the Secret Science Club is a far cry from bad high school memories. If Neil deGrasse Tyson has taught us anything lately, it's that science is actually incredibly cool, and this Brooklyn-based group is here to keep spreadin’ the word.
“We are dedicated to presenting science directly from the practitioners, and to providing free (and occasionally not, but affordable) events so that anyone can come,” says Dorian Devins, one of the club’s founding members. “I think the better educated the public, the better the world. And science is an extremely important part of this education, and in helping to understand how things really work (at least in the natural world, maybe not politics!)”
Like many great ideas, this one began with a bunch of stuffed animals. Oh, yes, we do mean literally. “[The club] got started as an offshoot of a taxidermy contest that Margaret [Mittlebach] and her co-author Michael Crewdson had to promote their book, ‘Carnivorous Nights,’” Dorian says. “They had been on my (then) radio show on WFMU to talk about the book, and asked me to be one of the 2 judges.” And how could anyone really say no to that? Soon enough, she found herself selecting an auspicious fellow as the champion of the night. “One of the co-owners of Bell House — not in existence yet — was a winner and offered to do taxidermy contest again at his soon-to-be-opened new bar, Union Hall,” Dorian says. “He casually mentioned that he'd like to do many things, including a science themed night.” And since Dorian and her compatriots all dealt with scientists in their day jobs, the trio seemed like a natural fit to lead the event at the new bar.
Though Michael has since moved to Australia, Margaret and Dorian still manage the club’s forays into nerd-dom all over the city. Each round of speakers and topics tends to come together either through personal connections or from a short wish list of sorts. “Sometimes former speakers or other scientists recommend speakers,” Dorian adds. “Sometimes people solicit for themselves or friends. In any case, the speakers are all working scientists, and must be very good in presenting their work for a lay audience, albeit one that is specifically interested in science in general or in their topic.”
So what can folks learn by joining the club? Recent topics have ranged everywhere from venomous creatures and glow-in-the-dark marine life to in-depth talks on the origins of good and evil. “Some perennial favorites for audiences seem to be anything about the brain or mind and the cosmos,” Dorian says. “But I like all of them, and try to think of under-represented sciences to cover as well.”
Well, you didn’t hear it from us, but… their next meetings aren’t quite so secret. “[We’ll] have our first ever Secret Science Club North event up at Symphony Space on Tuesday, Sept 30 with astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan.” And before that, on Thursday, September 11 at the Bell House they’ll have computer scientist Rob Fergus from NYU on deck to talk about building machines that can see with Deep Learning. If you don’t know what that is, then you’ll just have to go get your science on.